For newcomers, this is a semi-regular newsletter from the Texas Triffid Ranch, Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery. Feel free to forward early and often, and to subscribe if you haven’t already.
Installment #28: Nancy Crawford (1933-2021)
My mother-in-law Nancy died in the early morning of August 29, the day before her 88th birthday. Considering her sense of humor, that was completely in character. She was the sort who loved to celebrate others’ birthdays but didn’t want any particular fussing about hers, which is one of the many reasons why we liked each other so much.
There’s so much to be said about Nancy that it’s taken nearly four months to get it out: without her kindness and encouragement, there wouldn’t be a Triffid Ranch today. Way back in 2003, right after I married her youngest daughter, my newfound fascination with carnivorous plants had expressed itself in buying a set of assorted carnivores at the local Home Depot while buying bookshelves, and that led to a vague discussion on the merest possibility of someday starting a store dedicated to carnivores. As opposed to the rest of the family , she didn’t rush for the holy water and silver bullets just right then. Instead, she wanted to know why I wanted to do something like this, and when I explained that this was something to work toward, slowly and carefully and never without a day job as a backup, she just said “All right.” If she’d said “Bless your heart,” a phrase full of misunderstandings and regrets among those who never grew up in Texas, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have heard the round that took me out, and I spent the rest of her life making sure that I never gave her reason to say it, jokingly or otherwise.
Nancy and I came from drastically different backgrounds, but we spent so much time comparing notes. She graduated from college at a time when graduating “with honors” actually meant something, and she came about as close as anybody could to crossing herself when I related how the Harvard Class of 2004 had 91 percent of its class graduate that way because of parental pressure. She and her husband Durwood had just married when the Texas Drought of Record of 1952-56 started, and she told me how Dallas was so close to being abandoned as the wells were running dry just as the rains returned. We talked about local soils and local geology, and she showed off the spider lilies in her back yard that her mother had given her when they first moved there, and we discussed planting her beloved wood ferns in the incredibly shady front yard, and we both gazed upon her flowering quince in awe and wonder every spring.
Nancy made a point of giving moral support when Caroline started doing solo jewelry shows shortly after we got married, and really ramped things up when the two of us started doing shows together starting in 2009. After a while, if she wasn’t manning the booth if Caroline needed a break, she was hanging out front and greeting new customers, and rapidly it wasn’t a real party if she wasn’t there. In the days when most of our shows were science fiction and horror conventions, she didn’t quite get the passion other attendees had, but she respected them and treated them with a grace and charm so rarely seen any more. It got to the point where if she wasn’t at a show, everyone would ask about her, including the convention organizers, and she always blushed when we told her about her fan club contingent checking to see how she was doing.
When the gallery finally opened, after months of preparation, the old Valley View location was just up a distance from their house, so Nancy and Durwood made a point of coming out to the grand opening, just to see what we’d done with the place. Nancy was very familiar with Valley View, having watched it go up in the early 1970s (Caroline’s older sister Shari worked in the Spencer Gifts in Valley View, and even donated her old manager badge when we opened), and was thrilled to see the completed gallery and greet people whom she’d only met at traveling shows. She was even more thrilled when we moved in 2017 to the current location, and got to see a better idea of what we wanted to accomplish when we invited the whole family for a special opening. Even when she couldn’t make it to open houses, she always wanted to hear details on who showed up and what new items we had on display.
The last few years were rough, as she became more frail in the final stages of dementia, and as anybody else with family in a similar situation will tell you, Nancy had good days and bad days. One of the surefire ways to turn a bad day into a good day was to show her plants and to tell her about the last show, and with the Porch Sale events held at the gallery all through 2020, I had plenty to tell her when we would go to see her. Considering that she was one of the most gentle people you’d ever met, she always feigned shock when I’d refer to her walker as “the War Rig” or suggested that maybe she might be a little less rough with the rest of her roller derby team, but she was laughing about it as much as I was. It always came back to the plants, though: she had never encountered Sarracenia, or at least knew what they were, before 2003, but the only thing that thrilled her more than photos of leucophyllas were photos of their brilliant scarlet blooms, and I started the whole Manchester United Flower Show theme so she could see as many blooms of as many different types of carnivore as she could. When the first Heliamphora bloom opened in the gallery a few years back, I don’t know who gasped in wonder louder.
I wish there were gigantic monuments to Nancy all over Dallas, but sadly most of what made her happiest was gone. The buyer of her house claimed that they were buying it to restore it to its original late-Sixties glory, even asking us not to dig up the spider lilies or transplant the roses I grew from cuttings in the back yard. The whole property was razed almost immediately after its purchase to make room for yet another zero-lotline McMansion, and the only thing connecting the new house to the old was the street number painted on the curb out front. In the gallery, though, we have all sorts of items she gave us over the years, all displayed proudly, and she smiled when we both told her we put them specifically where she could see them when she came in. As long as the gallery remains, there’s always going to be a big piece of her in it, but it’s not anywhere near as big as the hole she left.
EDIT: The followup.
The Dallas Morning News Best In DFW Awards came back in the middle of November, and the Triffid Ranch got Bronze in “Best Art Gallery.” What that entails, other than entreaties to buy advertising to promote it, we’re still figuring out. The interview in Community Impact Richardson is a better opportunity for entertainment: the interview is great, and it comes with a photo that proves that even Annie Leibowitz couldn’t get a good photo of me. And now you know why you don’t see lots of selfies, and not just because my smile really makes people regret leaving Ripley and Parker to look for the ship’s cat.
Yes, the independent bookstore is supposed to be dead, Just try telling Mark Ziesing Booksellers that. As of next year, I’ll have known Mark for a solid third of a century, and if you’re looking for gonzo print magazines from the Eighties and Nineties, he’s the best source around.
Quite literally, nobody publishes books like Molly Williams’s Killer Plants any more. More’s the pity: while it’s not packed with full-color illustrations, it’s also loaded with excellent advice on caring for carnivorous plants from an apartment dweller’s perspective. Go order lots of copies as last-minute gifts: speaking from personal experience, it’s just the right size for a thorough reading on a work-related plane trip.